All posts by lindaopp

GOD WITH US

A long time ago I knew a couple who adopted two sisters out of the foster care system. These girls had a horrific background, resulting in emotional damage. Their adoptive parents provided them love, acceptance and counseling, and the girls made great strides, but not without struggle. Sometimes everything came crashing down.

On a particularly bad day the younger sister disappeared for hours. Her adoptive mom eventually found her in her room, curled up in the darkness of the closet. She was there, she told her mom, because when she felt overwhelmed, it helped to sit in the dark.

A lot of parents I think would have told her to stop being silly and to come out and be with the family. That’s not what this mother did. Instead she sat with her little girl in the dark until she was ready to come out. What love. What care in handling the brokenness of her daughter.

This tender example is the perfect illustration of what followers of Jesus have just celebrated – Jesus, the very Son of God, coming to be with us in the darkness, to experience our humanity and our world, and to finally sacrifice himself for us.

Timothy Keller, in Hidden Christmas, writes, “Christianity says God has been all the places you have been; he has been in the darkness you are in now, and more … In Jesus the ineffable, unapproachable God becomes a human being who can be known and loved. And, through faith, we can know this love. This does not stun us as much as it should” (italics mine).

Far from being stunned, a lot of us are extremely jaded about the fact that God Himself came to sit in the darkness with us. His goal is to bring us out of that darkness and into his light. But first he comes into our darkness, lives in our world, experiences our pain and hunger and helplessness.

This is something we should spend some time absorbing, considering how truly broken we are, how dark is our darkness, and then be absolutely overcome with amazement that the God of the universe would stoop so low. God Incarnate, God in the flesh, making his home with us. “And the Word became flesh, and lived with us.”

This amazement at Emmanuel, God With Us, ought to make us so thankful that we’re willing to sit in the darkness with others. We like to jump in with quick fixes as we quote a few Bible verses, handing them out like pills, without understanding whatever is causing the darkness, not really being “with”. I’d say most of us have been on both sides of this sad equation at one time or another – either as the glib giver of good cheer and advice, or the struggling soul left hanging desperately alone and unheard.

In this after-Christmas season, God calls us to be listeners, those who are with others in their darkness, because Jesus is with us in ours. We are called to bring the stunning realization of “God With Us” to a dark world.

WAITING FOR THE LIGHT

December, the season of twinkly lights, is paradoxically dark. The days are short. Darkness comes too early, while sunrise comes too late. It’s dark when I wake up, and dark again when I’m cooking dinner. It makes me sad.

As a child I was oblivious to this December darkness, caught up in the excitement of Christmas decorating, baking and Christmas program rehearsals. Plus the nearly unbearable anticipation of what was in those packages under the tree.

As an adult, if I’m being honest, I dread the long march to the shortest day of the year, and look forward to the day after the winter solstice, when the days start getting longer once again. The change is imperceptible at first, but the knowledge that we’ve reversed course brings me immense relief and joy. I’m happy when the holidays have gone, because spring is that much closer.

Regretfully, this celebratory time of year is tightly bound up in my struggle with darkness. But it heightens the fact that each Advent season I am very much waiting for the light, in all sorts of ways.

I think without the annual experience of darkness I wouldn’t be attuned to the significance of what it means to be longing for light, and how much I need the light of God in my soul. Human beings are looking for light, whether it’s spiritual light, sunlight, or just a nightlight in the hall on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. How desperately you need that light, and how welcome it is. You wouldn’t appreciate it nearly as much if you hadn’t first of all experienced darkness.

Around 700 years before Jesus’ birth, the prophet Isaiah predicted the coming Messiah, and he used the image of light. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2). A few verses later, Isaiah describes this light, this deliverer, in a famous passage that is sung every Christmas – “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

The Apostle John picks up the image of light in the opening to his gospel – Jesus has the light within him, the light for every person and every culture. This light is life, the life we need that only comes from him. Jesus says it himself in John 8:12 – “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Jesus, the light, is literally our life. His light gives us salvation and transformation, a reason to be here as we follow him in obedience and service, and resurrection hope for the future, no matter how thick the literal or figurative darkness around us.

This December feels much darker than all the Decembers of my life up to this point. We have not only physical darkness, but pandemic darkness. People we know, sick and dying. Restrictions, isolation, jobs lost, businesses going under, and kids struggling to learn online. More sunlight is coming at the end of December, but Covid darkness will stretch awhile longer. We are all waiting for the light.

What do God’s people do while they’re waiting for the light? They pray, they love, they serve others, they work to bring God’s kingdom to earth, they live in expectant hope. This isn’t easy, so sometimes they despair and get afraid. But the light is still the light. That’s why we can be quietly joyful in this season, even without all the activities we’re used to and long for. After this darkness, we will love corporate worship, family gatherings, Christmas traditions, and longer, light-filled days more than ever. Because we’ve seen and known the dark.

But even here, even now, Jesus is still the light. And his light will not be quenched.

LOST

Covid19 has caused tons of trouble, and a few weeks ago it made me lose my phone. Who knew a virus could be this nefarious? But I’m getting ahead of myself.

To be honest, I lose my phone an average of three times a week. Fortunately, I lose it in my house, so I know the search parameters. Even so, I can waste a good twenty minutes retracing my steps, and often find it in weird and obscure places. On top of the bookcase in the downstairs bedroom? I have no memory of being in this room. And why would I stick my phone up there anyway? Often my missing phone is discovered under a pile of magazines and books that seem to litter the family room. Or stuck between the couch cushions.

When my husband is at home, it’s simple. I use his phone to call my phone, holding it like a Geiger Counter as I search the house. When he’s out of the house, I’m sunk. Before we got rid of the landline, I’d use it to call myself. No more. I’ve considered reinstating the land line just to give myself more options, even though you can also lose a cordless phone. The original, corded phones were the best. You always knew where your phone was, right there on the wall, and it had a leash to keep you from wandering too far. Some days I just want to go back.

Why don’t I simply keep my phone in my pocket? There are three problems with this: 1) some of my clothes don’t have pockets; 2) ladies’ pockets are pretty small; 3) On the occasions I do use a back pocket, I fear my phone will take a dive into an unpleasant receptacle in the powder room.

The lost phone saga kicked up a notch when I was out shopping a few weeks ago. I got into my car to drive home, and realized my phone was missing. Full on panic engulfed me. I instinctively decided to call my husband for help and advice, then realized I couldn’t call him because I’d lost my phone.

After dashing into the two stores I’d just left, retracing my steps, asking if a lost phone had been turned in, and coming up empty, I drove to my husband’s office. He immediately began calling my phone, over and over. He kept calling it while we dashed home to inhale our lunch, literally. It took five minutes. We then drove to store #1 and perused the parking lot.

Where did you park, my husband wanted to know. You mean the exact spot, I asked, incredulous. Yes, that was what he meant, but I could only give the general area, as in here, in this parking lot. I waved my arms expansively to emphasize my point. He prowled around, dialing. No phone rang from the pavement. We went into the store, and I headed in the direction where I’d last been. As I got deeper into the store, I heard a phone, my phone, like a child calling for its mother. I followed the cry and found it exactly where I’d left it, a dark phone propped up on a shelf of folded dark sweaters, nearly invisible.

Here’s where I get to blame Covid19. In this store the dressing rooms are closed. Because apparently the virus will infect me if I use the dressing room, but not while I’m walking around the store touching the merchandise, picking things up and putting them back. In addition, the mirrors that used to be attached to the pillars in various places around the store have been removed. Even if you only want to try on outerwear, as I was doing, there’s no way to see how it looks on you. So I had very cleverly opened the camera app on my phone, turned it to selfie mode, propped it up on the sweater display and used it as a tiny mirror while I tried on jackets (which didn’t work very well; life-size me didn’t get any helpful information from tiny me) and then went merrily on my way.

The relief at recovering my phone was immense, followed by a sad realization of how dependent I am on it. My life stopped when I couldn’t find it, and bleakness ensued when I pondered the idea of starting a relationship with a new phone. But what do I expect when I carry with me a tiny machine that is phone, camera, calculator, calendar, metronome, dictionary, stopwatch, alarm and timer? Not to mention portal to email and the internet. What have I done to myself?

This is a deep philosophical question that deserves serious consideration. But there’s no time for that now, because once again I have misplaced my phone. I know it’s here somewhere…